LITTLE ROCK — Popular in the late ’70s and early ’80s, the TV show was called Eight Is Enough. In the new world of a college football playoff, Four Is Fine.
Tweaking the process for selecting the four teams is necessary; expanding the playoff to eight or more is not. More than four and the playoff will be diluted by two-loss teams unworthy of being considered among the elite.
Occasionally there will be a season with weird happenings, but four is best because it preserves the unique importance of the 12-game regular season. No other sport grabs fans and holds them like college football.
In the 32-team NFL, a dozen teams make the playoff. No one can argue that the 9-7 New York Giants were the best in the league from September through December, but they won the Super Bowl and that is all that matters.
College basketball teams play 30 games or more, and interest peaks when the 68-team NCAA Tournament begins.
Since the BCS came to be in 1998, consider the records of teams five through eight in the final standings:
—Seven times, including last season, three of the four teams had two losses each.
—Four times, including 2010, two teams had two losses.
—In 2003, all four of the teams had two losses.
—The only year in which at least one team did not have multiple losses was 2008.
We can do without a playoff padded with 10-2 teams. Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman nailed it when he said none of those involved are naive to assume the four-team playoff ends the controversy. “We’ll pick four teams, and there’ll be a fifth team,” Perlman said.
At that point, the microscope will be turned on the selection committee 15 or so that is being trumpeted as the harbinger of transparency. We are led to believe that a few remarks from the committee chairman will placate supporters of the once-beaten team that was No. 5 or No. 6 and that the system works well in basketball.
In March, Jeff Hathaway, chairman of the NCAA basketball selection committee, explained Seton Hall’s exclusion by saying, “At the end of the day, they were a quality team, but we knew some quality teams weren’t going to be a part of the 37 (at-large bids).”
Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said the committee honed in on the last two games of the season, both losses. “That wasn’t who we were,” he said.
Drexel coach Bruiser Flint, whose Dragons won 27 games and the Colonial Athletic Association, was so mad at his team’s snub that he said, “There must be a lot of people on the basketball committee that don’t know too much about basketball.”
These are examples of the outspoken discontent of coaches who finished 38th or 39th or 40 on a list of at-large contenders. Imagine the howls from those with a rooting interest in an 11-1 football team.
BCS executive director Bill Hancock expects the committee to begin with the W-L record and continue on to game sites, strength of schedule, and common opponents. He even mentioned the consideration of injuries — “Yeah we lost to ‘State University’ but our quarterback was hurt that day. We won the rest of our games and he’s back. All kind of common sense things that folks use to evaluate team is what this committee will use.”
Oh, boy. In this case, common sense and subjectivity are interchangeable and therein lies the danger. Suppose the committee decided Braxton Miller’s 40-yard Hail Mary with 20 seconds left and Kirk Cousins’ 44-yarder on the final play of the game were flukes and that twice-beaten Wisconsin belonged in the four-team playoff after the 2011 season.
The selection process should include computers. When the task is reducing 120 teams to four, cold and heartless is a good thing.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is email@example.com.